This is a story of a US Navy Military Working Dog named Chico who had severe aggression problems and would attack almost anyone who dared approach him. He was a very unhappy dog and had a bad reputation at NSA Pearl Harbor, Hawaii back in 1998. He caused his previous handler (male) to trip and fall in which that handler’s wrist got damaged. But that male handler always seemed to have a hard time working with Chico. So, the Kennel Master in charge decided to re-assign Chico to another Navy Dog Handler while the handler recovered from his injuries.
Then here comes Niccole, a new dog handler that just got stationed in Hawaii and was already working with another military dog. She was there when Chico and his handler parted ways and she knew how Chico was around other people. But the Kennel Master re-assigned Niccole with Chico. They only had 30-days to bond as a dog team so they could start patrolling the military base as a Navy Police K-9 team.
Needless to say, Chico had a bad attitude and growled when Niccole first started walking him around outside of his kennel. He was an animal full of negative energy. The worst thing for Niccole to do was to force Chico into submission, dominating him out of fear. Chico was a trained guard/attack dog which made it challenging for Niccole to correct any of Chico’s deficient behavior. He could have easily turned on Niccole hurting her in the progress.
Luckily, Niccole loved dogs and was raised with dogs so she was able to change Chico’s behavior through respect and positive energy. “Giving Chico hot dogs was the trick!” Niccole says with laughter, “…and he loved playing with the ball in the water too!” Chico’s attitude eventually lightened up, was more controllable, was more disciplined, and he allowed Niccole to gradually dominate him.
She says, “It was a moment I will never forget. It was about 3 months later after we were assigned to work together. I put a lot of positive reinforcement into Chico, many hot dogs and a lot of play. Then I would toy with him in the back of the Navy K-9 SUV Patrol vehicle making sure he was in a playful good mood. I would have him lay down, and then I would lay down next to him, both of us resting. Then he would just relax with me almost on top of him. I could feel him submitting to me out of love because he knew I was happy and loved him. Never once did I have to beat him, whip him, or force him into submission. What I did in terms of being positive worked like magic!”
The dramatic improvements in Chico’s behavior was recognized by everyone in the NSA Pearl Harbor Police Department as well as high ranking Washington officials who oversee the Navy MWD program. Many people actually thought he was a brand new dog not recognizing him. They were shocked to find out that it was the same Chico but with a different temperament.
A year later after working and training together, Niccole and Chico entered into the annual Hawaii State Working Professional’s Canine Competition in 1999, hosted by the Marine Corps at Marine Corps Base Hawaii (formerly Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay). The competition included several categories such as obedience, scouting, detection, and more. Participants in the competition included all branches of the Armed Forces stationed in Hawaii (Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines), and civilian police forces such as local Hawaii Sheriff K-9 teams, Hawaii State Police K9 teams, and US Customs K-9 teams. Many teams of the other branches and civilian forces knew of Chico’s bad attitude and just shook their heads when they saw him re-assigned to Niccole. They thought he was a lost cause. It wasn’t until they saw his performance in the basic obedience category that they saw a difference, he was more well-mannered and obedient with Niccole, but not good enough to place in the top 10.
Then came time for the Scouting (finding a person in a big grassy field) portion of the competition. Contestants got to pick a number out of a hat and then they had to wait in line for their turn. Some dog teams were disgruntled at the number they picked, having to wait for so long. But Niccole didn’t care, she just wanted to do the competition and be done with it. It was like another training scenario they have practiced before. It was a hot Hawaiian sunny day with a light breeze. When Niccole and Chico were called to enter the field and then to wait at the starting line with the Official, Niccole quickly calculated a search pattern but Chico locked on a target. Knowing Chico’s behavior, Niccole bent down to look in between Chico’s ears to see what he was locked onto with the panel of judges watching. Niccole knew Chico had the target in his sights, so right when she rushed across the starting line the Official started their time (a race to find the exact position of the target). Like a lightning bolt Niccole and Chico darted across the field to the exact position of the target and quickly pointed it out to the Official that was following right behind them. The Official alerted the judges and the time was stopped. Niccole and Chico left the field for other contestants to participate.
It wasn’t until the Awards Ceremony that Niccole found out she had won First Place in Scouting. But the main reason why she won was because she had the fastest time, beating the Marine Corps Kennel Master’s time by a few seconds. He was actually ahead of her in the line of contestants waiting. “Some people thought I cheated, surprised that a Navy female could beat a Marine in a race like that.” Remarks Niccole. But others came out and said that it was the panel of judges that ultimately decided, who saw the entire race. Niccole adds, “That was the ultimate career crowning achievement I could ever have, working with a very difficult dog. I was more like a proud dog mom because our dog training really paid off!” After working two years with Chico, his obedience training levels reached a post certification “Top Dog” level which was awarded by Navy Military Working Dog Program Washington Officials.
But the main point of Chico’s story is to not give up on your dog, really, especially if you rescued one from your local shelter. It takes some time to change their behavior if they have had severe behavior issues. But remember that not every method works with every dog. So be sure to consult a dog training professional and see what kind of advice they have to ensure your canine pet gets the best care and training possible.